Who is John Paul Cook? 'Blind' archery coach pleads guilty to taking $1M in disability benefits
John Paul Cook allegedly qualified for vision screening tests to renew his driver’s license in North Carolina
ASHVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA: On Monday, July 19, a 57-year-old man pleaded guilty to defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs out of close to $1 million over three decades while pretending to be legally blind.
According to the prosecutors, in reality, John Paul Cook used to carry his driver’s license and often drove around his hometown of Alexander in Western North Carolina. Reports revealed that he was also a certified range officer for BB guns and archery in the Boy Scouts of America and taught land navigation, which required studying maps and using a compass. Cook faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina said. As part of the plea agreement, he also agreed to forfeit $978,138.60.
We have reported similar cases in the past. In 2020, we reported a high-profile case of an Instagram celebrity, Hushpuppi who scammed 1.9 million people off $435 million including fraudulent Paycheck Protection claims. A few months back, we reported how Maryland pastor, Rudolph Brooks Jr, bought 39 cars including Tesla with fraudulent $3.5 million Covid PPP loans and today we reported the case of Gregory Blotnick, a Florida hedge fund manager who stole $4.6 million in Covid-19 PPP loans was held on $500K bail.
In December 2020, a grand jury charged Cook on seven counts of stealing from the Department of Veteran Affairs, making false allegations for receiving disability benefits and making false claims for VA travel benefits. He was arrested and released on a $25,000 bond, court filings show.
As per the documents obtained, Cook fell off a ladder in 1986 while on active duty in the US Army. He had joined the military six months ago with a “lifelong history” of amblyopia in his right eye, also known as a “lazy eye” a condition he claimed got worse after the accident. Cook was then discharged with disability benefits in August 1987. For the next 30 years, Cook told the Department that his vision continued to deteriorate. In applications for more benefits, prosecutors have stated that Cook claimed that he couldn’t find work and was unable to “drive, shop or read.”
By 2005, he allegedly told the Department that he was completely blind, prompting officials to classify his injury as “100% disabling.” His monthly payments from the department rose from $1,411 in 1987 to $3,990 in 2017 netting him a total of $978,138 in disability benefits, prosecutors said. During that time frame, he allegedly qualified for vision screening tests to renew his driver’s license in North Carolina, drove his children to school, took himself to appointments, ran errands and went on road trips out of town. Not just that, he also became active in Boy Scouts teaching BB gun shooting, archery and land navigation, court documents state. In early 2017, after investigators saw Cook driving around town, including to and from his appointments at the VA clinic in nearby Asheville. His disability payments stopped in October 2017.